Study Guide

Main Street Gopher Prairie

By Harry Sinclair Lewis

Gopher Prairie

When Will Kennicott first tells Carol about her new home of Gopher Prairie, she imagines a quaint country town that she'll be able to transform into a thriving world of culture. But from the moment she first lays eyes on the place, she thinks, "Gopher Prairie was merely an enlargement of all the hamlets which they had been passing. Only to the eyes of a Kennicott was it exceptional" (3.3.5). Immediately, Gopher Prairie goes from being a symbol of hope to one of despair and imprisonment.

And let's face it: the image of a prairie full of gophers doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. In a lot of ways, the townspeople really are kind of like a bunch of gophers: nondescript, not particularly intelligent, content to roll around in their little corner of the prairie as if nothing else existed in the world.

Living in Gopher Prairie wouldn't be so awful for Carol if everyone else found it as ugly as she does. But the truth is that everyone else in the town seems to think it's the best gosh-darn town that ever existed. When Carol looks to her husband Will, "She knew that he was satisfied with Gopher Prairie, but it gave her vicarious hope to think of going, to ask for railroad folders at the station, to trace the maps with a restless forefinger" (20.4.5).

Carol spends most of the novel suffering in silence, thinking that she's the only person in the world who realizes that Gopher Prairie is ugly. But toward the end, she has sympathy for the place instead of disgust. As the narrator tells us, "Her active hatred of Gopher Prairie had run out. She saw it now as a toiling new settlement" (38.9.1). But that doesn't mean she's going to start liking the place. Now she just feels sorry for it, and as the end of the book suggests, this might be as good as she's gonna do.

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